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The No. 1 Healthcare Concern Americans Want Donald Trump to Fix -- and It's Not Obamacare

By Keith Speights – Nov 20, 2016 at 7:43AM

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Americans were asked which healthcare issue they most wanted the new president to fix. Their answer might surprise you.

Donald Trump will take the oath of office as the forty-fifth president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2017. The billionaire businessman promised that one of his major goals will be to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Is that what Americans want as Mr. Trump's top healthcare priority? Nope. Replacing Obamacare barely cracked the top 10 in the list for respondents in the latest Health Tracking Poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Here's the No. 1 healthcare concern Americans want the next president to fix.

Image source: Disney / ABC Television Group, via Flickr.

Striking bipartisanship

Nearly three-quarters of the 1,205 Americans surveyed by Kaiser Family Foundation said that their top priority for the incoming administration is to make high-cost drugs for chronic conditions like HIV, hepatitis, mental illness, and cancer affordable for people who need them. This was the No. 1 priority for Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike.

While bipartisanship was present when it came to controlling drugs for chronic diseases, the second-greatest healthcare priority varied, depending on the respondents' political leanings. Democrats and independents ranked having the federal government take action to lower overall prescription drug prices as their No. 2 priority. Republicans, however, went with repealing Obamacare as the next most important item for the next president's healthcare agenda.

Americans united again for the third most important healthcare priority. Survey respondents of all political affiliations picked making sure that enough doctors and hospitals were included in health plans' networks as their third-highest to-do item for the federal government.

What might Trump do?

Donald Trump's healthcare priorities don't appear to align all that closely with those identified in the Kaiser survey. Aside from repealing Obamacare, Mr. Trump's top three healthcare goals include allowing health insurance to be sold across state lines, and permitting individuals to fully deduct the cost of health-insurance premiums from their federal income taxes.

The only item among Donald Trump's healthcare platform planks that could relate to containing chronic-disease drug costs is to "remove barriers to entry into free markets for drug providers that offer safe, reliable and cheaper products." This goal ranked at the bottom of Mr. Trump's top seven healthcare objectives.

Could this proposal really help make chronic-disease drugs more affordable for Americans? Maybe. Pharmaceutical companies often price drugs lower in other countries than in the U.S. Whether or not this idea makes a significant difference for the top priority identified in the Kaiser survey depends on the details of how the change would be implemented.

Breathing easier

President-elect Trump's healthcare priorities are quite different from those of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of state publicly attacked drugmakers by name and promised to address alleged "predatory pricing" by some companies.

Although they weren't singled out by Hillary Clinton, Gilead Sciences (GILD 1.57%) and AbbVie (ABBV 1.75%) stand out as two companies that are probably breathing much easier after the election. It's not surprising that shares of both AbbVie and Gilead jumped after Donald Trump won. Gilead has been a target of activists for years because of how it prices its HIV drugs, and both Gilead and AbbVie market expensive drugs for treating hepatitis C.

AbbVie and partner Roche won regulatory approval for cancer drug Venclexta earlier this year; Venclexta's price of $110,000 per year is even higher than the $80,000-plus cost for hep-C drug Viekira. That makes Gilead's price tag of nearly $58,000 for its cancer drug Zydelig look almost cheap by comparison.

Change is coming

As of now, it doesn't look like significant efforts will be undertaken by a Trump administration to lower chronic-disease drug costs. That could change, however, if this continues to be a top priority for the American public.

Assuming Mr. Trump and Congress fulfill their promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, that would check off a box on Republican voters' healthcare wish list. It's possible that they, along with other Americans, will push harder for making chronic-disease drugs more affordable with Obamacare out of the way.

Regardless of what happens with healthcare reform and the views of the American public, one thing is certain: Change is on the way.

Keith Speights owns shares of Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Gilead Sciences. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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